Unimaginable dream: La Feria native to strategize at White House

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Elsa Cavazos, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas
·5 min read
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Mar. 14—HARLINGEN — Looking back at why she chose to be involved in politics, Emmy Ruiz, 37, said her parents would jokingly describe her as having a fiery spirit.

Ruiz, who is a Rio Grande Valley native, was named Director of Political Strategy and Outreach for the Biden administration on Jan. 5.

"That is a nice way I can frame it," she said about the fiery adjective.

"I have always cared a lot about representation, leadership, ensuring we were doing right for our community, and I have always been such a fangirl of Hillary Clinton, that is true," she said.

Her first time being involved in politics was working as a field organizer for Clinton in Nevada.

"The first opportunity I could I jumped in the campaign, and my brother Isaac helped me get the job. Being a field organizer helped my life in a way I could never forget," she said.

"In many ways I feel that is what I am doing in the White House. I am an organizer in support of the Biden-Harris administration, and I feel very honored for the opportunity," Ruiz said.

When asked the three biggest lessons she has learned over the course of her political career, Ruiz mentioned doing the right thing is the first one.

"Always try to do what you say you are going to do, be honest with people, treat people well and with kindness, that is one. Two, never rise alone, everything I do and every single one of my successes and in personal life, you don't do it alone, there are a lot of people to get you there," she said.

"Three, hope really matters. It is a true motivator. There have been many times in our country and communities where things have been really hard, but what motivates us is the belief, is the hope and vision things could be better. And they should be better," Ruiz said.

For her, hope is key and those three lessons have been her biggest motivators.

Importance of representation

This is not the first time Ruiz has made national headlines. She has been interviewed by NBC News, Marie Claire and featured in Bloomberg articles about her work.

Ruiz is a former campaign aide for Vice President Kamala D. Harris, Secretary Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, and Democratic Chairman Tom Perez, according to a White House press release.

She is a co-founder and partner of NEWCO Strategies, a minority-majority political firm.

During the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, Ruiz helped support the work of groups mobilizing communities of color to vote, as well as working diligently to elect progressive women to office. She has also served as senior advisor to the Democratic National Committee and as the Political Director of Annie's List in Texas.

Annie's List is a Texas-based political action committee dedicated to recruiting, training, and supporting progressive women running for state and county office, according to its website.

"For far too long communities of color and even in the Valley, have been deeply misrepresented. I don't mean just people who look like us, but of course that is a big part of it, but people who have not fought for us," she said.

"People say it is important to give them a voice, but they have a voice. We need to make sure those voices are heard, and that is a big motivator for me. And it is really important to never forget how lucky we are the exception not the rule," Ruiz said.

For her, it is crucial to have opportunities available for all people, including those in regions such as the Valley.

Early Beginnings

Ruiz was born in Harlingen but was raised in La Feria, where she lived most of her life until she left for college in 2002.

"I was just there two weeks ago; it is my home. I used to go a lot more and spend my summers there after I started college," she said.

When asked to describe her life in the Valley, Ruiz said it was idyllic. She compared it to a fictional city called Mayberry, famous from The Andy Griffith Show.

"I felt like I had an incredible childhood. I was very lucky to grow up there," Ruiz said.

Her parents were immigrants from Mexico and because of that Ruiz was instilled with the belief in the American dream.

"One hundred percent of who I am is thanks to my mom, my dad and my brothers. I am lucky I was born into that family," she said.

"I learned to always work your heart out and always try to do the right thing and treat people right, every single person you come across, while also creating opportunities for others," Ruiz said.

Her parents worked the fields for many years, which showed her what working hard and making sacrifices mean.

"They were very adamant that the one thing people could never take away from you is your education," she said.

Ruiz graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2006 and began working for Clinton in 2008.

Action plan

Last week she said the most important thing she wanted to highlight at the moment was the American Rescue Plan.

"As you know, our communities and our entire country has been devastated by this pandemic. Whether we are talking about school reopening, unemployment insurance, frontline workers and ensuring people have access to the vaccine, it is really important we pass this plan," she said.

"It will help us determine what the future will look like. We are really committed to having bipartisan support," Ruiz said.

When asked if she had expected to work for the Biden administration she said no, and she quoted her own words posted on Twitter.

"Like I shared, some dreams are so big and great that they never even crossed my mind," she said.

"I am really lucky and grateful they thought of me. I am going to do my best every day to make sure I do right by that," she said.

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ecavazos@valleystar.com